Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Temple

In the days of the kings, God lived among his people in a temple built by David's son, Solomon. On Christmas day, God came down and dwelt among his people in a temple made of flesh. And today, God abides with us in an even more surprising and mysterious temple.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Wrestler

You always were a wrestler. Even in the womb, you fought to squirm your way to the front. Your first attempt to wrest the birthright from your brother was thwarted, but you emerged with a heel and a name, Jacob, the heel grabber.

You grew up a quiet man, hovering near the tents. Esau, a strong and skillful hunter, loved the open country. He had one thing you desired more than anything else, the birthright. You knew you could never overpower him by brute strength so you resorted to trickery. Esau followed his nose and ended up in the tent drooling over a pot of steaming stew. "Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I'm famished!"

You were only too happy to oblige. You would hand over the stew, IF he traded you the birthright. Your fool of a brother consented, selling the birthright to fill an ever-emptying stomach.

The birthright meant inheritance. But you wanted something more, your father's blessing. Cloaked in a goatskin, you tricked your father and got what you wanted. All your scheming and conniving landed you a mournful father, a death threat, and a sleepless mother who feared for your life. So you ran.

There in the dark night, your head resting on a rock, I found you. "I am going to give you something you can't earn, swipe, or steal, my favor. This land you are laying on will one day be yours. You swindled a blessing out of your father, but I will freely bless the world through you."

"So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (Romans 8:16, NASB).

You ran to your Uncle Laban where you met your match in the deceit department. You gave him 7 years of labor, and he gave you a wife you did not love. Oh, but I loved Leah. I saw her misery and gave her a child, Reuben. I heard her cry, so I gave her Simeon. I attached myself to her through Levi, who would father the priestly line. And I would bring praise through Judah. You worked 7 more years and secured the hand of your beloved Rachel.

You desired to return with your wives and sons to your homeland. But Laban wasn't ready to let you go. He received a taste of the blessing I would give the world through you and begged you to stay. You took advantage of this opportunity to drain Laban of what was his. Through a breeding experiment, you stole the best of Laban's flock, leaving him with the weaklings. Laban's attitude toward you changed, so you left.

That's when news of your brother reached your ears. He was on his way to see you and was bringing with him 400 men. Your heel-grabbing had finally caught up with you. You knew your brother was coming with an army to pay you back what you deserved. In a desperate plea to save your skin, you sent droves of servants bearing gifts, you divided up your camp into two groups, and you prayed. Oh, how you prayed.

I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, "I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted (Genesis 32:9-11).

That night, you got up and sent your two wives, your eleven sons, and all your possessions across the Jabbok. But you stayed alone. Or so you thought. Until...boom! a man knocked you to the ground. You fought hard and long under the light of the stars hovering above. When day broke, you were wounded. Your hip was wrenched out of socket, but you refused to let go. "Bless me!" You were still fighting for what was already yours!

"What's your name?"


"No, not anymore. I am giving you a new name. From now on, you will be called, Israel. You've wrestled with your brother, your Uncle, your wives, and now this stranger in the night. But I tell you that all along, you have been wrestling me. Your new name will be Israel, "he wrestles with God." Don't you see? The heavens aren't bent against you, they are bending down to you. Here is my favor. Take it. It's yours.

But, oh Israel, you always were a wrestler.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

On the mountain of the Lord...

The Laughter grew until one day, the Voice returned.

A beloved son carrying the wood for his own sacrifice.

A ram caught in the thicket. A substitute sacrifice.

Yes, the Lord will provide.

And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided" (Genesis 22:14).

Friday, December 3, 2010


As I stared down at the child cradled in Sarah's arms, something deep within me stirred. For so long, fear had made its home beneath the soil of my heart. Fear that I had left my home in vain. Fear that I would fail to provide my wife with the one thing she most desired. Fear that I had misinterpreted God's promise. Fear that I had sinned too greatly and lost the Lord's favor.

I watched as my wife wiped a gray tendril of hair from her glistening forehead. My insides quaked. Something was threatening to unearth my fears. It bubbled in my belly, shook my chest, and tickled my throat until it erupted out of my mouth. There was a cavern deeper than my fears that I had not known existed, and out of it, sprung laughter.

Sarah turned and held out the child toward me. "Do not be afraid, Abram." The words came to me as from some distant dream. "I am your shield, your very great reward."

I extended my arms to receive the child and caught a glimpse of my own wrinkly hands. With these hands, I had awoken Sarah from her sleep. I took her hand, so small in my own, opened the tent flap, and led her into the night. The moonlight sparkled on her face. Such beauty!

"Look up, Sarah. See those stars? Try to count them."

She giggled, "Oh Abram, that's impossible!"

"Maybe, but God says that our family will one day be like those stars."

She placed a hand over her barren womb and tears filled her eyes, "Oh Abram, what if it was true?"

We spent the rest of the night lying on our backs and naming the stars.

Time passed. My beard turned white, Sarah's shoulders began to hunch, and hope fled. These were the days of desperation and despair. My servant, Hagar bore a child, but he was not the promised one. Sarah seethed in jealous anger. We sent Hagar and the child away and continued to wait. My hands had been wrung, clenched, and shaken at the heavens. How long, O Lord!

Now, these hands that had been empty for so long held a baby. I pulled my son close and his eyes met my own. They were his mother's, sparkling jewels. He reached up, grabbed my beard, and gave it a royal tug. "Yow!" Sarah howled with laughter.

It was a laugh very different from a year ago, when three visitors came. We offered them food and I dined with them outside the tent. In between bites, one of them spoke, "Next year at this time I will return, and your wife Sarah will have a son." As soon as the words left his mouth, there was the sound of laughter from inside the tent. Sarah had been listening and the laughter snuck out of her before she had time to muffle it.

"Why did Sarah laugh?" the visitor asked, motioning toward the tent.

Sarah poked her head out, "I didn't laugh."

A smile spread across the visitor's face. He reached up and turned Sarah towards him. "Yes, you did laugh." He let out a little chuckle of his own saying, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

I returned the child to his mother. "I've thought of the perfect name for our son. Let's call him Laughter, for surely he will bring laughter to the whole world."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Promise

Disobedience, a curse, and expulsion. Dastardly deeds draped in darkness. Wickedness, wrath, and judgment. Clouds covered the sun and rain poured down. A cleansing. Then...Light, multi-colored light; a rainbow and a promise.

"Never again will I flood the world in the down pouring of my wrath. The rainbow will stand between you and me. It's an umbrella, a sign of this promise. I will provide shelter."

Yes, God would provide. Through the line of Noah's son, Shem, God was going to build a family. This family would come from the childless one ironically named, "father."

"Abram, leave everything you know, your country, your people, and your father's house, and walk with me into the unknown. I will give you what you lost in Eden, land. You will no longer be defined by the curse in the Garden, but by a blessing." As in Adam, all were cursed, so in your seed all will be blessed."

Letting go of all he could hold, Abram clung to the promise.

By faith, Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going (Hebrews 11:8).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A New Beginning

Wickedness increased and the earth groaned.

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs (Romans 8:22 The Message).

Sin reigned and the people groaned.

But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy (Romans 8:23-25 The Message).

Then came one whose name means “comfort.” Looking down at the baby boy in his arms, Lamech said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed,” and named the boy, Noah.

The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth – men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air – for I am grieved that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:6-8).

God told Noah, “Build an ark. Gather your wife, your 3 sons, and your sons’ wives and enter the ark. Bring along two of all the unclean animals, a male and a female, and seven of all the clean animals that they may live. I am going to send a torrential downpour to destroy and cleanse the earth. But inside the ark, you will be saved from the flood of God’s wrath.”

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family (Hebrews 11:7).

Noah and his family entered the ark and the Lord shut them in. It was dark and quiet as even the animals waited in silence. Then, a strong gust of wind blew against the boat, there was a pattering on the roof, and it started to rain. All the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened (Genesis 7:11). The ark creaked and began to lift, swaying from side to side. The ark rose as water immersed the flowers, trees, hills, and mountains.

Every living thing outside the ark died; men and animals, crawly things and birds, everything was wiped out. Everything that is, except…Noah, his family, and the animals inside the ark.

Finally, after 40 days and 40 nights, the rains stopped. The storm ended and left with it a deafening silence. For 5 months, the waters continued to flood the earth. The Noah clan was adrift at sea and floating on a water grave.

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark (Genesis 8:1).

As God had blown into the corpse of Adam the breath of life, God sent a gust of wind over the whole earth. The waters fled at His breath, scampering back into the cracks and crevices from which they had sprung. The ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. Noah called for a raven and a dove. He opened the window and released the birds, waiting for some sign that the waters had receded. Nothing.

In 7 days, Noah sent out the dove again. This time when the dove returned, it was carrying in its beak a freshly plucked olive leaf. Life! Peace!

Noah took off the roof of the ark, and rays of sunlight shot down on his head. As Noah adjusted his eyes, he looked out. The earth shimmered. And, oh, how green it was!

“When the storm leaves, there’s a silence that says you don’t have to fear anymore. The trees are greener, the sky’s an ocean. The world is washed and starting over.” ("Everything Sad is Coming Untrue, Part 2" by Jason Gray)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Paradise Lost

But with the snap of the forbidden fruit, everything changed. A cloud hovered over the sun shrouding the world in darkness. A frigid wind shot through the garden and entered my heart. I shivered. I was cold, naked, and ashamed. Grabbing some fig leaves, I frantically tried to sew together some clothes for my husband and me. I needed covering.

Shadows to my right, a scuffle, and the deafening cry of a bleating lamb. Then, footsteps. My heart was pounding. I found a tree and dove behind it. Cowering there, I heard the footsteps grow ever closer. Oh God, save me, I breathed.

The footsteps stopped. A familiar voice called out, "Where are you?"

Dare I answer? What if He found out what I had done?

It was quiet for a moment, and then my husband spoke, "I...I heard you and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

"Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"

Adam grabbed my arm, pulled me out from my hiding place, and shoved me forward. "This woman, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."

I stared hard at the ground but could feel those eyes of sparkling jewels shift to me. I was certain I had met my end.

"What is this you have done?"

I could not look up. What would anger look like on such a face? Would a scowl cross that holy countenance? If the world was made with a word, what kind of destruction could a shout bring? And who could blame Him? It's what I deserved. He gave generously, and I took from him the one thing that was not mine to have. I broke the only commandment he spoke.

"You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."

I was heavy with guilt and had a sudden urge to beat my fist against my forehead. A lump grew and lingered in my throat. How could I have been so foolish?!

Then I remembered the serpent and his slippery words. "Did God really say?...You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

My anger transferred to the slimy snake. He had made it sound so convincing. Greatness... God was holding me back...God was keeping something from me. But now I see that serpent for what he really is, the father of lies.

My face contorted as I fought to beat down the lump that swelled in my throat. My eyes burned until tears could no longer be contained. Best to look up now and meet my ruin rather than prolong it.

"The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

I looked up and what I saw sent a new pain into my chest. But this pain did not destroy me. No, it was healing me. My Maker's cheeks were just as smitten with tears as my own, his hands were stained red, and adorning his shoulder was the skin of a lamb.

The Lord turned to the serpent who sat with a satisfied smile and spoke, "Cursed are you. You will crawl on your belly and eat dust. You have set yourself up as a war maker and you will continue to make war against the woman and her children. You will nip, bite, and scratch at her heels." The Lord glanced in my direction, and I saw a twinkle of hope spark in his eyes." But He will crush your head."

Then God turned to face my husband and me. He told us the new order of things, that life could now only come on the heels of great pain. "The ground," God said, "will poke, cut, tear, scratch, and gnaw, but by the sweat of Adam's brow and through much toil, life will spring up yet again." And to me he said, "As Adam will labor to bring forth life from the earth, you will likewise labor to bring forth life from your womb." With these words, God slung the sheep skin off his shoulder and laid it before us. "Put this on. It will cover you."

When we were clothed, God led us out of the garden. As we left, I turned back for one last view of my home and saw cherubim brandishing swords and barring the way to the tree of life.

There has not been a day gone by when I haven't longed to go back. I wake up from dreams I can't remember with a distinct feeling of homesickness in my heart. I ache for the day when He will come and crush the head of the serpent of lies, make clear the way to the tree of life, and carry me home.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Let there be light

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1).

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2).

Darkness. Emptiness. Nothingness. Until...

And God said, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3).

With a word, light spilled from the river of God's mouth and drenched the darkness. Into the emptiness God's voice rang, and a sphere answered in appearance. God gave the water globe an atmosphere and puffed clouds into the sky. Daisies, daffodils, and day lilies popped up and peppered the countryside. Great sycamores and mighty oaks grew and stretched their branches upward straining toward the source of light. God took a pinch of his radiance and stuffed it into the sun. The water creatures splashed in the light of God's glory, the birds soared beneath its wings, and the land creatures danced in its rays. Night fell, but not even darkness could drive out the light. The moon reflected the sun's glory; the stars pierced the night sky.

All things were created by him and for him (Colossians 1:16).

Then God bent down. He gathered a clump of dirt and fashioned a man. The breath of God was the kiss of life, and the man inhaled. His eyes opened, and he looked full into the face of his Creator.

Out of man, God made woman. Together, they labored, loved, and laughed. They drank deep from the living well, and God walked among them.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Every story whispers His name

"Wait a minute, Jesus is in the Old Testament?"

I couldn't help but let out a chuckle and think, "Where have you been these last three months?" You see, since the beginning of August, our Kingdom Kids class has been scouring the Old Testament stories for signs of the promised Messiah. For 12 weeks, we've bent our ears and listened for whispers of Christ in the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and David. How had this child missed what we had been emphasizing for so long? I was about to let out a sigh of frustration, when I realized it was not a lack of listening that had prompted the question; but rather, it was a moment of recognition. Jesus is in the Old Testament, as well as the New.

This is a truth that even many adults miss. I was part of a conversation about curriculum when a woman spoke, "Why do we spend so much time studying the stories of the Old Testament? We should stick to teaching about Christ because he's the one who saves us." She's right that Christ should be at the center of our teaching and preaching, but she was mistaken in thinking that the Old Testament was not about Jesus.

Jesus is the one who would crush the head of the lying serpent and clear the way back to the Tree of Life. He would be the ark that saves the people from the flood of God's wrath. He would come from the seed of Abraham and bring blessing to the whole world. Like Joseph, Jesus would be punished even though he had done nothing wrong. Like Moses, he would release the captives from bondage and lead them safely to the Promised Land. He would be the Passover lamb that was slain so that his blood would cover the people. He would be the mediator between God and man. He would be the true Yeshua who would remind the people that "Yahweh saves." He would be the son of David, a king whose kingdom would never end. He would be the fulfillment of the temple, God's dwelling with man. He would be the suffering servant, the stump of Jesse, and the holy branch. He would love his wayward wife, Israel, as Hosea bought back the prostitute, Gomer. He would descend into darkness, like Jonah, and emerge three days later.

No, Emmanuel had not yet been born, and no, the Word had not yet become flesh, but Christ inhabits the Old Testament as well as the New. As Sally Lloyd Jones puts it in The Jesus Storybook Bible,

"There are lots of stories in the Bible but all the stories are telling one big Story - the Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this story and at the center of the story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers His name. He is like the missing piece of a puzzle, the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together and suddenly, you can see a beautiful picture."

I also like how Timothy Keller puts it in this video:

Today marks the start of the Advent season. Journey with me through the stories of the Old Testament as we prepare for Christ's coming.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Eternity is calling

This is something I wrote a couple of years ago and felt it would be appropriate to resurrect in light of beginning a new year of Wednesday night care groups.

It's Wednesday night, and I'm in my Chevy Cavalier cruising down Highway 86 with windows down and music up. My eyes keep drifting away from the road to the beautiful sunset on my left. Through the speakers come the words of one of my favorite Rich Mullins' songs, "there's more that rises in the morning than the sun, and more that shines in the night than just the moon..." In the deep vibrations of the song, eternity is calling.

I am a traveler and my journey has taken me to the Proctor's house for Bible study. I enter the red, barn-like house and am greeted with open arms and warm smiles. The smell wafting from the kitchen draws me in where I fill a cup with cold lemonade and pile warm cookies onto a napkin. In the invitation to draw further up and further in, I hear eternity calling.

Carrying my newly acquired snacks, I make my way back into the living room and nestle down in the couch. After a brief time of fellowship, our evening officially commences with the singing of hymns. We flip through the well-worn pages and sing as Mark plays the guitar. I hear the faint echo of voices long past. Together our voices converge and I am ushered out of time; eternity is calling.

The singing ends, we put up our hymnals, and pick up our Bibles. Opening to 1 Corinthians, we divide up the number of verses equally and read aloud one chapter, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." Oh how I both fear and long to be known fully! Eternity is calling.

It is now time for prayer. With heads bowed and eyes closed we see clearly the suffering of the world. We pray for sick people, hurting people, and those in prison. We, ourselves, are sick, hurting and imprisoned. We ache for deliverance. The individual prayer requests are enveloped by the silent cry of our souls, "Come Lord Jesus, come!" Eternity is calling.

My departure looms menacingly in my mind as I notice the clock. But I stick around, hoping to sip every ounce of the sweetness from this evening. The conversation moves to casual. We talk about sports, music and entertainment. Everyday things; Sacred things. But now the time has come to leave, so reluctantly I rise to my feet and say my goodbyes. In the longing to stay and the impulse to go, eternity is calling.

I open the door, and walk toward my car. On the way, my eyes gravitate upward where I see the stars blanketing the night sky; little beacons of light in the darkness. A tear trickles down my cheek, and I remember the words to the Rich Mullins' song, "If I weep, let it be as a man who is longing for his home." It seems so far away, yet it is so near.

I can hear it, can you? Eternity is calling.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Wasps and Fear

Yesterday, as I was leaving the church, I spotted a speckled moth on the sidewalk. Wanting to capture this extraordinary creature on film, I hopped over to my car, opened the door, and grabbed my camera. Enamored by the beautiful bug, I forgot to close the door.

After satisfying my curiosity with pictures, I returned to my car, set my crutches aside, and started to step in. That's when I saw it: a small, formidable flying insect with a narrow stalk connecting its thorax and abdomen. My failure to remain guarded had made passage for a wasp to sneak into my car. It arose and hovered over my backseat like a wall cloud, waiting for the opportune moment to drop its stinger into my skin. I shut the door, and scurried a safe distance away. Maybe I can call someone to come pick me up. But then I realized that my phone was being held captive in the wasp's new lair. I would have to lure the creature out. Timidly, I approached the car and opened the door, hoping the fearsome insect would voluntarily abandon his stuffy stronghold for the open air. Then I waited.

For as long as I can remember, I've been terrified of wasps. My fear may stem from a childhood experience in which my older brother was stung on the ear and had an allergic reaction. On that day, I learned that even the strong could be weakened by this small yet menacing creature. But knowing the source of my fear has not diminished it.

Sweat was starting to form on my brow as I waited for the wasp to emerge. There was movement. The wasp made its way toward the open door. Just a little bit farther... Yes! It's out! I raced to slide into my seat but, taking advantage of my handicap, the wasp flew in before I could close the door. So, out I hobbled and continued to wait.

When I was eight years old, my friend Isaac and I used to spend the afternoon catching butterflies. When Isaac suggested we catch wasps instead, I was quick to find an alibi in his little brother. Feigning concern for the well being of this mere babe, I took Toby by the hand and got outta dodge quicker than a fugitive running from the law.

And now my arch enemy had returned, taking up residency in the only vehicle that could transport me home. Maybe I'll just walk home. Enclose my fear in the locked car and hope it suffocates. Avoid it for now, and maybe it will be dead when I return. I even took a few steps in that direction before realizing how ridiculous my plan was. The trek was over a mile, up and down hills, and I was on crutches. Oh, what great lengths I will go in order to avoid that which I fear!

But no. I would stay. The next time my nemesis showed his face, I would shut the door with my crutch and wait for him to fly away. And that's eventually what happened. The wasp flew out, the door shut, and I waited until the coast was clear before entering my vehicle. But as I drove away, the wasp made one last appearance at my windshield. With the security of the shield between us, I let out a little laugh, mocking my Fear. It hovered as if to say, "You haven't seen the last of me yet! Until we meet again..." I shuttered and drove home, glad for the reprieve but aware that though I had won the battle, I had not yet won the war.

Now, if only wasps were the worst of my fears...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Student of the Week: Logan Ruzic

"You know what's amazing?" I stopped what I was doing and looked up at the 9-year old pensively studying the picture of the world in his hands. "The earth is round...right?... The people on the bottom and sides don't fall off."

Ah, to marvel like a child...

The originator of this quote and our student of the week is Logan Ruzic. On Wednesday nights before church, I get to hang out with Logan. We play kickball, build dams, track any number of creatures (birds, lizzards, worms, etc.), and invent new designs for paper airplanes. In everything Logan does, life spills out of him. And as the statement at the beginning of this post illustrates, Logan is just as full of insight as he is adventure. He sees the world with wide-eyed wonder and is teaching me to do the same. Thanks Logan, for teaching me to marvel and filling me with abundant life.

Here's an interview I recently had with Logan:

What are some of your favorite things to do?
play sports

What are some of your favorite sports?
kickball, football, wrestling

If you discovered a planet, what would you name it?
I don't really know because it depends on what it looks like and how big it is and stuff like that.

What if it was a big planet?
Planet Bigster

What if it was really small?

What if it was on fire?
That would be pretty much like the sun, so I would call it "Sun."

What's your favorite food?
Cornish Hen

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you like to go and why?
I used to want to go to Africa, but now I want to go to Egypt so I can dig up some gold and rubies and stuff like that.

What's your favorite song?
It's by Jason Gray, on his first CD All The Lovely Losers #7, "I'm Not Going Down"

What was the last book you read?
Jigsaw Jones Private Eye: The Case of the Christmas Snowman. It has 74 pages.

What's your favorite word?
I don't know what the word is, but it's this big science word that has 2,000 some letters in it. It looks like a paragraph, and it's the longest word in history.

What's your favorite Bible story?
the story of the 10 plagues

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Greatest

They all saw the basin. It sat quietly in a corner, as the disciples vied for chief seats.

"I call dibs next to Jesus," Simon the Zealot cried out.

"Hey, we already called those seats!" exclaimed James and John in unison.

"No you didn't. your mom did, and besides, if we're recalling firsts, I believe I was the first disciple that Jesus called," Andrew was quick to point out.

"Well, first is worst and second is best. Jesus told me that I was the rock upon which he was going to build his church."

"Yeah, Pete, but he also called you Satan. I think that cancels out the whole 'rock' thing."

"But I walked on water," Peter said defending himself.

"Okay, so maybe I was wrong. You were a rock; at least you sunk like one!"

"Very funny, I don't recall you standing next to Jesus when his face was transfigured and he talked with Elijah and Moses."

"Well, I hate to burst your bubble, brother, but you would have never even known Jesus had I not taken you to him. And speaking of taking things to Jesus...who was it that brought to him the boy with five loaves and two fish? Five thousand people were fed because of what I did."

"Jesus turned to me when he wanted to know where we would find bread for all the people to eat," Phillip said, joining in the argument.

"Don't kid yourselves. If you guys wouldn't have been there, we all know that Jesus could have rained down bread from heaven. He could have turned stones to bread if he wanted. Greatness isn't measured by what you do, but by what Jesus says of you. When Jesus saw me, he said, 'Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.' Boy, he sure did know what he was talking about," Nathanael interjected.

"If we're discussing names, it should be pointed out that we're called the 'Sons of Thunder.' Now that is a name that resounds with greatness."

"Yeah, but did Jesus ever eat dinner at your house with all your friends?"

"There's no way I'm letting a tax collector in above me. You may be use to handling people's money, but Jesus wasn't about to let some swindling tax collector be his treasurer. He entrusted that job to one who was a dependable steward of money, like me." With that, Iscariot, took the chief seat at Jesus' right hand.

As they elbowed and shoved their way to the front, Jesus slowly walked toward the basin. With the soft murmer of the disciples' argument echoing about the room, Jesus took off his outer clothes, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into the basin. The room fell silent. One-by-one, the Lord washed his disciples' filthy feet. They all saw the basin, but only one took up the towel.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Shooting Arrows

When I teach, I am an archer, shooting words like arrows in hopes that one will strike home. But sometimes none do. The words whiz over the heads of their intended targets. I fire one sentence after another. "The Israelites spread the blood of the lamb over the doorway," I say. And kids rustle in their seats. So I fire again, "It was the blood from a perfect, spotless lamb." Blank stares. Better fire from a different angle, "Jesus was called the lamb of God." There's a hint of recognition, so I continue, "When the blood of the lamb covered the doorway to the house, Death could not enter." Slowly a child on the front row raises his hand. "This is it," I think. My heart starts to rise, "Yes?..." "What time do we get out of here?" My heart plummets. At this point, my supply is depleted, and I walk away from the class time without any indication that the word of God penetrated to dividing soul and Spirit, joints and marrow.

But every once in a while, an arrow pricks a child's heart. Last Wednesday night happened to be one of those times.

We were watching a video clip from The Visual Bible: Matthew in which Jesus heals a leper (Mt. 8:2-4). The scene starts with the leper approaching Jesus. He falls down on his knees and cries out, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." The disciples reflexively cover their faces and turn away in order to avoid contamination. But Jesus walks toward the leper. The disciples look on in bewilderment as Jesus unwraps the bandages and gently touches the man's face, "I am willing. Be clean!" At that moment, with Jesus' touch, the leper is healed.

The video clip ended, and I began to explain to the class that Jesus used his hands to welcome those whom no one else would. He touched mud to a blind sinner's eyes. He ate with tax collectors. He blessed children. He washed his disciple's dirty feet. Jesus touched the sick, the dirty, and the unclean. I was about to move on when a young boy's voice stopped me. Our eyes met, and he asked, "Why would he do that?"

The question hung in the air suspended by the silence that filled the room. The rest of the students scooted to the edge of their seats, and I knew this boy had spoken their hearts' longing as well. The class was a silent chorus pleading, "Tell us it's true." The arrow had penetrated.

So I told them. I told them that the reason Jesus welcomed these outcasts was because He loved them; God loves them. Jesus was sad they were sick and shunned. He wanted them to be made whole and well. And it was His touch that brought this healing. It was His touch that made the polluted, pure. And it is His touch that will make us clean, as well. It's true. And in that moment, with 40 kids leaning in, the arrow pierced my own heart as well. It is true, and I believed it.

But maybe I am more of a gardener than an archer. This isn't just a hit-or-miss operation. I till soil, plant seeds, water the earth, and pull weeds. Sometimes I get a glimpse of green sprouting from the soil. Sometimes I see the fruit of my labor. But mostly, I wait. With dirt under my fingernails and sweat on my brow, I pray for a bountiful harvest. And all the while, the Sun is shining down, beckoning to the seed, calling it to Himself.

"So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow" (1 Cor. 3:7).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Student of the Week: Caleb Cook

Our student of the week is Caleb Cook. Caleb is 7 years old and is in the 1st grade. This past Sunday, I had the honor of taking Caleb's confession before the congregation, as Caleb's dad baptized him into Christ.

When I asked Becky (Caleb's Wednesday night teacher) to describe him, she used the words attentive and lively. These two adjectives may not seem like they fit together, but I think they describe Caleb perfectly. He's excited, enthusiastic, and lively while at the same time being an engaged and attentive listener.

Whether it's acting out a Bible story, designing a wedding dress out of toilet paper, or making up actions for the memory verse, Caleb's the first to volunteer and participates without fear of what others might think. He is always willing to try new things, and as Caleb's dance performance during the Fall Festival illustrates, he is not intimidated by a crowd. Here's how Nancy (Caleb's small group leader) puts it,

"Caleb is always eager and willing to try, always participating in class. Even if he isn't sure, he takes that step of faith rather than staying back because he's afraid of being wrong. As adults, we can learn a lot from that childlike faith."

Thank you, Caleb, for showing me faith without fear. Your contagious enthusiasm makes you a joy to have in class.


Wednesday night, I sat down with Caleb and asked him a few questions. He informed me that he had never been interviewed before, so I bring to you an exclusive, first-time interview with Caleb Cook:

What are some of your favorite things to do?

A: read chapter books, tv

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A: a dancer

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

A: to my Memaw and Papa's house, because I love them

If you had a time machine, to which time period would you travel?

A: to when my Papa was born

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

A: to fly, so I could see things that are far away

How do you show Christ to someone who is not a Christian?

A: by hugging them

Friday, February 26, 2010

Eric Peters Concert Review

Last week, singer-songwriter Eric Peters came to our church. On Wednesday night, he was kind enough to play a few songs for the kids and read from his epic space novella, The Revenge of the Birds. He was even brave enough to face a barrage of questions from K-5th graders...Questions like, "What's the worse song you have ever written? Can you play it for us?" and "I've been to Texas."

The next evening, after a day of scavenging the local bookstores, Eric came back for an all-church concert. With guitar in hand, charango in tow, and a harmonica to boot, Eric began to weave a tale. And imbedded in the fabric of this story was the promise, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

He told his own story. He read from his childhood diary and we were transposed into the mind of a child. He sang of his wife in songs like, "Sad to Watch You Wave" and "May Your Tenderness." He gave a benediction to his sons in the song, "I Will Go with You." He sang of his own struggles, disillusionment, and hope in songs like "Reality Came Crashing Down" and "Old Year of Denial." And rising like a steady drumbeat was the guarantee "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

He told the stories of others. With a smirk and a wink, he sang of a race horse with an identity complex. Cloaked in the fur-covered garments of Jacob, he told of a conman who was blessed. Donning the rust of an abandoned bicycle, he told of his desire to be reclaimed. And sporting the skittish feet of a rabbit, he told of his longing for a place of rest. The drum beat drew ever nearer, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

He told my own story. There is a quote by Frederick Buechner inside the cover of Eric's latest CD that says, "The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all." In the stories Eric told, I found my own story of fear and faith, displacement and hope, anxiety and trust. My own struggle to love and be loved was reflected back to me in the words, "I thought love was a weapon to conquer and wield but love turned out humble and it still conquers me." And I surrendered with the realization that, "little by little it's becoming all I need." Rattling the bones of my own story is the pounding promise, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

For those interested, here's the set list for the night:
  • "You Come Over Me"
  • "Little by Little Things"
  • "Chrome"
  • "Run Down"
  • "Reality Came Crashing Down"
  • "Old Year of Denial"
  • "I Will Go with You"
  • "Sad to Watch You Wave"
  • "Waterloo"
  • "Son of Laughter"
  • "Squeeze"
  • "You Can be Yourself"
  • "May Your Tenderness"

Thank you to everyone who came out for the show. I hope you left with the assurance that you are never alone.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Memory Verse: Isaiah 42:6-10

On Wednesday nights, the 3rd-5th graders have been memorizing Isaiah 42:6-10. Last Thursday, nine students bravely stood before a crowd of 100 people and recited these verses. Great job Anna, Ian, Jacob, Jason, Kaylin, Marissa, Morgan, Rachel, and Sierra! The date for ice skating has been set for Sunday, April 25th.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bound (Part 1)

I wear chains. You may not see them, but they are there. I desire to be a servant of Christ, but am entrapped by a cruel task master. Just when I think I have broken free from his command, I find myself, once again, submitting to his incessant decrees. I am enslaved to the approval of others.

I first recognized my bondage in Jr. High. Through wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and associating with the right people, I struggled to fit in with the fashionable few. Leaving my elementary friends, I set out in pursuit of popularity. The social barometer was the lunch table, and I would not be content until eating with the "in" crowd. In this failed attempt to find significance, my chains were clearly visible.

Bearing the burden of my bonds, I entered high school. At a youth event the summer before my sophomore year, I met a family who would change my priorities. These were a peculiar people. They didn't care about attire or outward appearance. Their language was not tattered by gossip or meaningless chatter, but was filled with gentleness, grace, and kindness. As I spent more time with them, I realized the foolishness of chasing the chaff of popularity. For a moment, it felt as if my shackles had been loosed. Yet even as the size of my audience grew smaller, I continued to perform: choosing the words my character would speak, emotions she would express, and insights she would reveal. In the midst of becoming a respectable person, I felt the cold clasp of chains.

In time, I graduated high school. The transition to college brought new people and new expectations. In an effort not to disappoint others, I worked, studied, and practiced with vigor. My performance was directly tied to how I viewed myself. When I performed well, I felt good. When I performed poorly, I felt shame. My aim was to avoid shame through the means of excellence. My bonds became a burden disguised in the cloak of discipline. However, in the midst of my chase fueled by bad motives, God continued to reveal Himself to me. As I listened to lectures, completed assigned reading, wrote papers, and studied for tests, I contacted a God of love. Growing in acceptance of His love, I learned to cast aside my chains. Yet, they lingered.

I am now a children's minister. Shortly after my first year of planning for Wednesday nights, someone came to me with criticism. After she left, I cried, and as tears streamed down my face, I felt the cold clasp of chains. Lest, you begin to feel sorry for me, I better tell you that this criticism was countered with praise as I received letters in the mail, balloons in my office, and spoken words of appreciation. Ironically, the more praise I receive, the more I crave. In my quest for one more word of approval, I trip over my chains.

"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:0). When will I find release? "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit" (Rom. 7:6). I will always be bound, but it is my choice as to who is my master. Will I serve God, or man? As Kenneth Boa writes in his book, Conformed to His Image, "The more we are concerned with what God thinks of us, the less we will be worried about what others think of us. And when we are no longer enslaved to people's opinions of us, we are free to love and serve them as Christ loves us - with no strings attached."

Lord, help me to accept your love. "Set me free from my prison that I may praise your name" (Ps. 142:7).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Do it Again

"Do it again." If you have been around children, you are more than familiar with this phrase.

My dad likes to play hide-and-seek with my 2-year old nephew, Silas. Dad hides behind the bed while my nephew counts. Then Silas goes seeking until Dad comes charging out of the room chasing him into the waiting arms of a third party. Amidst the shrieks of laughter, Silas chuckles out, "Do it again."

Last week my neighbors, Rachel and Evanson, came over to play in the snow. One of our favorite things to do was race down the hill on our sleds. As we sped down the slope and tumbled into the ditch, we would giggle with glee, until one of the kids would suggest, "Let's do it again." So we would carry our sleds back up the hill and slide down again... and again... and again..., until my legs grew heavy, my cheeks turned flush and my fingers were numb. As I trudged back to my house to warm up by the fire, I heard a child's voice call out, "Maybe tomorrow we can do it again."

How many times have you watched that same movie, listened to that same song, repeated that same joke, or made that same funny face only to hear "Do it again?" So you do it again... and again... and again... And each time the child squeals as if it were the very first time. For repetition does not diminish the joy the child finds in the act. What if this delight is a God-like characteristic? I love this quote by G.K. Chesterton:

"A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"' and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we."

So tonight when billions of stars blanket the sky, and tomorrow when the sun peeks over the horizon, may you be filled with wonder. May you view these acts as if you were seeing them for the first time, and may your heart cry out, "Do it again." Lord, help us to grow young.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Pointy Side of Love

I recently had a conversation with a friend who mistakenly wrote "falling on love" instead of "falling in love." Here is what ensued:

Friend 1: I've never fallen on love before.
Me: I wonder if it hurts?
Friend 2: Only if you fall on the pointy side.

Even though the conversation was in jest, I think there is truth to that statement. Love does have a pointy side. As C.S. Lewis said, "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one."

It hurts to turn your cheek only to be slapped on fresh skin. It is painful to fall on the side of love that causes you to pay back blessing for insult, to pray for your persecutor, to forgive for the seventy-seventh time, to submit to a harsh master, to remain faithful in the face of infidelity, and to wash the feet of your betrayer. In the end you find that love costs more than you ever thought you could give.

Not only does it hurt to give love, but it also hurts to be loved. It hurts to resume relationship with someone you have disappointed. It hurts to be forgiven when you have done nothing to merit forgiveness. It hurts to be loved when you feel unlovely. Love is a scourging. The blade of love cuts, chisels, and carves. The mallet of love bruises, pounds, and shatters. You are left pierced, punctured, bleeding, and blistered. Sometimes love feels like death. And maybe that's what it is. Because when you awake, you find that you are not the same person you used to be. Your old self is gone; you are new.

That's when you look up and notice your Lover's face is tear-streaked. For you see that it is His hands that are pierced. It is His side that is punctured. It is His brow that is bleeding and His back that is blistered.

So when you encounter the soft side of love this Valentine season, the kind that flitters in your stomach, cuddles you with teddy bears, and tastes as sweet as a candy heart, may you remember that love has a pointy side. Thank God. For it is by His wounds we are healed.